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A bits-and-pieces week this week theme emerging from recent developments in property litigation. We have a status update on the passage of the Renters Reform Bill through Parliament on its way to becoming law. We have an instructive case on the status of long-term AirBnB lettings, and we have useful and hopefully long lasting guidance from the Supreme Court on the difference between one-off nuisance and continuing nuisance for Limitation Act purposes. 

Renters Reform Bill 
We await confirmation of the date of the second reading of The Renters Reform Bill in the House of Commons The second reading is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles, which we outlined in our earlier article. Whilst we do not have a date yet, it is normal for it to take at least two weeks from the first reading. After the second reading and positive vote, the Bill will proceed to Committee Stage, which is where amendments to the Bill would be debated. 

If, or when, the Bill gets approved here are the main ways it will affect pre-existing tenancies: 

  • Any fixed period of tenancy will be allowed to come to its end. At this stage the tenancy terms cannot be for any longer than 28 days, unless the tenancy is monthly;
  • A section 21 notice given prior to the application date will remain valid until time-barred or concluded. The tenancy will also remain an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement until this time;
  • Landlords will not have to issue updated statement of terms, but will have to provide tenants with the changes made by the Act in writing; and
  • Court Orders already made pursuant to Section 21 will continue to be enforceable.

AirBnB fine 

An AirBnB landlord has been left with a £100,000 court bill after he cut off the electricity to supply to his property. 

Talha Abbasi, the owner of an apartment in West London, rented out his property through AirBnB to Countess Christine Bolza and Count Niki Bolza. The couple lived in the property with their son. At some point they experienced cash flow difficulties and fell behind with their rental payments. In response to these arrears, the landlord chose to cut off their power for 19 days, leaving the property in 'total darkness' and ''utterly freezing'. 

The tenants brought a claim of harassment and breach of lease against the landlord, claiming he had illegally cut off the power. The landlord denied such allegations and instead argued that the couple had very limited tenancy rights and protections as the property was rented out on the basis of an AirBnB 'holiday let'. Moreover, the landlord also claimed that he had not intentionally cut off the supply, but rather the lack of electricity was caused by an issue with the meter and was a safety response. 

Judge Stephen Hellman of Mayor's and City of London Court, disagreed with the landlord, ruling that the landlord had indeed acted unlawfully in cutting off the power. The Judge stated that the couple occupied the property, not on the basis of a holiday let, but effectively was an 'assured shorthold tenancy' and therefore the couple benefited from the significantly improved rights this confers on tenants. The Judge ordered the landlord to pay £12,924 to the couple in compensation and around £90,000 to cover their legal fees. 

Judge Hellman also concluded that the meter was ''probably'', at the request of the tenant, tampered with by an electrical engineer, but that did not give the landlord the right to cut off the electricity supply completely. 

Jalla v Shell International Trading and Shipping Co Ltd 

Lorem Hot on the heels of Fearn v Tate, on 10 May 2023 the Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in another case concerning nuisance, Jalla and another v Shell International Trading and Shipping Co Ltd and another [2023] UKSC 16.

Generally speaking, a nuisance occurs when a person carries out an act on their land which unduly interferes with the ordinary use and enjoyment of the claimant's land. A nuisance can be a one-off event or continuing. When a one-off nuisance occurs, under the rules of limitation a person has six years from the date of the nuisance event to bring their claim. When a continuing nuisance occurs, a new cause of action arises every day, so in effect that cut-off date is forever postponed.

The facts in Jalla concerned a claim for nuisance arising from an oil spill which occurred on 20 December 2011. The claimants issued their claim on 13 December 2017 (ie just before the 6 year period ran out). During 2018 and 2019, after those six years had expired, the claimants applied to amend their claim. Shell, the Defendant, argued that the applications were made after the expiry of the limitation period, and so should not be allowed.  The claimants countered that the nuisance was continuing, because the oil had not been removed from their land and continued to cause them damage. 

The Supreme Court confirmed that for a nuisance to be said to be continuing, the act that causes the nuisance must be ongoing on a continuing basis. There must be a repeated activity or an ongoing state of affairs for which the defendant is responsible. The Court held that whether or not oil remained on the claimants' land, and therefore the damage caused by it, was irrelevant to the question of whether or not the act itself that caused the damage was a continuing nuisance. The key to establishing continuing nuisance is whether something is ongoing for which the Defendant is responsible, and this usually happens on the Defendants' land. In Jalla, no further oil spill had occurred since 20 December 2011. Accordingly, there was no ongoing action by Shell which constituted a continuing nuisance. The applicable limitation period was six years from the date of the 20 December 2011 oil spill. Jalla was not allowed to amend its claim to bring in claim for later damages.

This is a useful (and coming from the Supreme Court) definitive guide to what is a one-off, and what is a continuing nuisance, and the role of the Limitation Act in that debate.

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